Stat Attack!: Northern Trust Open preview

By John AntoniniFebruary 11, 2014, 7:50 pm

Riviera Country Club, host course of the Northern Trust Open for all but two years since 1973, is one of the quirkiest venues on the PGA Tour. The sixth hole has a two-tiered green with a bunker in the middle, No. 10 is a drivable par-4, and No. 8 sports two fairways. There are plenty of doglegs, tight fairways, small well-guarded greens and few certain birdie opportunities. It has been well-documented that in 2013 Riviera allowed the fewest number of fairways hit since the tour began keeping records more than 20 years ago (51.82 percent), and its percentage of greens hit (58.01 percent) was the third-lowest on tour last year. What kind of player fares well on such a diabolical venue?

Would you believe three-time tour winner in 2013-14 Jimmy Walker? The AT&T Pebble Beach champion calls Riviera one of his favorite courses, and he finished T16 in L.A. a year ago after finishing T-4 in 2011 and 2012. Never one to worry about hitting fairways - he was last in the field in driving accuracy when he won the Frys.com Open to begin his amazing run last fall - Walker’s is one of the better records at Riviera. Since 2006 he has shot only one round worse than 72 and 13 of his last 24 rounds have been under par.


Jimmy Walker at the Northern Trust Open

 Year Place Scores To Par Money
 2013 T-16 70-70-71-69—280 -4 $99,000
 2012 T-4 72-66-72-69—279 -5

259,875

 2011 T-4 68-71-69-68—276 -8 268,666
 2010 T-37 71-72-71-67—281 -3 26,880
 2009 70 69-70-70-77—286 +2 12,600
 2006 T-39 71-71-72-69—283 -1 20,400
 2005 MC 73-73—146 +4  

But like Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch, there are other players who are at home on the par-71 venue. Four players in this year’s field - including Walker - have finished in the top-five at the Northern Trust Open two times in the last five years.

The top-five club

 Player 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009
 Bill Haas T-3 Won T-12 MC MC
 Dustin Johnson MC T-4 MC T-3 T-10
 Andres Romero T-71 MC T-55 T-5 T-3
 Jimmy Walker T-16 T-4 T-4 T-37 70

 

Three players have appeared eight or more times at the Northern Trust Open and have never missed the cut.

The weekend club

 Player

Cuts made

Top-10s Years

Best finish

 K.J. Choi 13 4 2001-13 T-3, 2009
 Stewart Cink 13 1 1997-13 T-5, 2000
 Matt Kuchar 8 0 2002-13 T-14, 2008

Five players who have won this event in the last 10 years are in the field. But unlike Haas, not all of them have done much beyond their victory

The winner’s club

 Player Year of win

Next best finish since 2004

Last year
 John Merrick 2013 T-54, 2010  
 Bill Haas 2012 T-3, 2013 T-3
 Aaron Baddeley 2011 T-7, 2005 MC
 Charles Howell III 2007 T-47, 2005 MC
 Mike Weir 2004 T-22, 2007 MC

The up-and-down nature of the recent winners make picking a champion this week dicey. If you had John Merrick a year ago after he hadn’t finished better than T-54 in any previous start at Riviera, congratulations. Also, I don’t believe you. Merrick took advantage of what was given him a year ago. He was T-23 in the field in greens in regulation by sticking his approach shots (T-11 in proximity to hole), and he got up and down when he missed the green (19th in scrambling). It’s a formula for victory on any course, but especially Riviera, where the five best finishers in 2013 were in the top 25 in the field in GIR, scrambling and strokes gained/putting.

Northern Trust Open leaders stats in 2013

 Player GIR percentage Proximity to hole Scrambling Strokes gained/putting
 John
 Merrick
63.89 (T-23) 33 feet, 9 in. (11) 65.38 (19) +1.157 (15)
 Charlie
 Beljan
72.22 (1) 33 feet, 1 in. (8) 70.00 (12) +1.657 (9)
 Freddie
 Jacobson
70.83 (T-3) 30 feet, 8 in. (2) 71.43 (T-8) +1.198 (14)
 Bill Haas 68.06 (T-10) 40 feet, 5 in. (T-61) 65.22 (20) +1.799 (4)
 Charl
 Schwartzel
69.44 (T-6) 36 feet, 2 in. (T-31) 77.27 (5)

+1.712 (6)


Webb Simpson has only played the Northern Trust Open twice, but he too, has a record to admire. He was T-15 in 2010 and T-6 a year ago and according to the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open media guide, he is the all-time scoring leader at Riviera, averaging 69.00 in his eight rounds there. Seven other players in the top-20 in all-time scoring at the tournament are in the field this week.

Active scoring average leaders at Riviera

 Player Scoring avg./rank Rounds
 Webb Simpson 69.00/1 8
  J.B. Holmes 69.69/4 26
 Fred Couples 69.87/6 115
 Ernie Els 70.06/11 34
 K.J. Choi 70.08/14 50
 Robert Allenby 70.14/16 50
 Dustin Johnson 70.20.18 20
 Bill Haas 70.25.19 29

During this wrap-around season it’s easy to forget that Simpson’s 2013-14 victory came in the fall at Las Vegas. Still he’s had a good Pacific swing. Like Walker, who also won in the fall, Simpson has been one of the tour’s top players since January. In fact, there are 14 players with three or more top-25 finishes on Tour during the past six weeks, and nine of them are playing the Northern Trust Open.

West Coast warriors

 Player

Starts

Top-10s Top-25s Best
 Pat Perez 5 3 4

T2-Farmers, T7-Pebble, T8-Sony, 11-Phoenix

 Harris
 English           
4 2 3 4-Sony, 9-Phoenix, T11-Hyundai
 Jimmy Walker 4 2 3 1-Sony, 1-Pebble, T21-Hyundai
 Jordan Spieth 4 2 3 2-Hyundai, T4-Pebble, T19-Farmers
 Kevin Na 4 2 3 T4-Pebble, T8-Sony, T19-Phoenix
 Webb Simpson 3 2 3 T3-Hyundai, 10-Phoenix, T23-Humana
 Will MacKenzie 4 1 3

T7-Farmers, T13-Humana, T13-Pebble

 Jason Kokrak 4 0 3 T15-Phoenix, T19-Pebble, T20-Sony
 Martin Laird 4 0 3 T19-Phoenix, 20-Hyundai,
T25-Humana

Perez has been one of the most consistent players on tour in 2014, and if you’re thinking about picking him in a fantasy league this week, he does have some success at the Northern Trust. Making his 13th start, he has made 10 cuts with a solo eighth in 2007 as his best showing.

Adding sparkle to the Northern Trust is the host of European Tour golfers or dual-tour golfers who have made their way to America and are playing this week as a run-up to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Some have played well in foreign lands this winter, some not so well, and some not at all. But their presence gives the Northern Trust Open 26 of the top 50 players on the World Ranking. With a projected strength of field of 434 points, it is the best-rated tournament in 2014 according to the standards set by the World Ranking.

International stars at the Northern Trust Open

 Player Rank Recent results
 Ian Poulter 14

It’s his third start in the U.S. in four weeks, but with little success (T-47 Farmers, MC Phoenix).

 Charl
 Schwartzel      
18

He won the Alfred Dunhill title in December, but has been cold since the calendar switched. T59 last week in Joburg.

 Victor
 Dubuisson
29

Fifth at the Volvo Champions in January, he was T-13 last week at Pebble Beach.

 Lee
 Westwood
33

Like Poulter, he’s stayed away from the Euro Tour in 2014. Also like Poulter, he’s struggled in America (MC at Pebble).

 Louis
 Oosthuizen 
34

He won the Volvo Golf Champions the second week of January, but hasn’t played since.

 Ernie Els 35

He hasn’t played the PGA Tour since the HSBC Champions, and missed the cut in his most recent start in Dubai.

 G. F’dez-
 Castano
38

Two MC’s in the U.S. (Farmers, Phoenix) after two top-20s to end 2013 in South Africa

 Joost Luiten 41

He’s been third, sixth and T-23 in three Euro events since the calendar turned. 

 Francesco
 Molinari
45

A T-13 two weeks ago in Dubai was his only world-wide start in 2014.


One final note: Fred Couples is playing his 32nd Northern Trust Open this week. He has made 28 cuts and won in 1990 and 1992. He was second in 1993, 1994 and 1996 and has 14 top-10s. More recently, he was T-7 in 2011 and has made the cut in 11 of 13 PGA Tour starts in the last three years.

If you haven’t already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc.

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Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.

Amen.

The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.



Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”